The past few years of my life have felt like a series of ungraceful ends and firsts.
I’m a terribly fickle and sporadic reader, which fits my ironic character traits perfectly. When I do start to read a book and it captures me, I will swallow it like Jonah’s whale. I ate quite a few of Stephen King’s books in high school. I’ve only read a fraction of his work and yet he remains the author I’ve read most. Now that I’ve sacked-up and dared to call myself a writer, I’m afraid to expand my “I’ll just have a salad” literary diet. The mantra (or cliché) is, “if you want to write, you have to read.” Read, read, read. But is that really true? I don’t want too many voices in my head. I’ve already spent much of life blindly modeling others instead of carving a life of my own. Can I find my voice without mimicking another author’s style first?
Probably not. Influence is part of being human, and art. I wonder how much of my current writing reflects the influence of Stephen King, Daniel Quinn, Stephen Elliott, R.A. Salvatore or my friend, mentor and editor, Rebecca T. Dickson?
I was digging through a box of old photos recently and came across some of my very first writings that mom had sentimentally saved. One piece was some fiction I wrote back in 1985 for Mrs. Robinson’s high school sophomore english class. I pulled it out of it’s protective plastic cover and read it. I’m amazed how much I remember about how I came to write this. I stayed up all night fighting with myself and staring at a blank piece of paper, much like I do now. When I couldn’t write, I recorded my thoughts on a tape recorder. At some point in my desperation, I grabbed a paperback copy of Stephen King’s Firestarter off my bookshelf and shamelessly stole lines from the first few paragraphs to start my story. There are also a couple of references to his book, The Stand.
After those first couple of paragraphs, my voice came out. I was also incredibly tired and stressed, the assignment was late and I had to get it done. I didn’t know what I was writing. I just wrote.
Here’s how my almost-sixteen-year-old mind worked. It’s bad. But it’s clever too.
* * * * *
The Morning Stu Freaked Out
…a shadow appeared in the middle of chaos, flames licked the sky, buildings lay flat as paper and the smell of rotting flesh filled one’s breath. It crept up a mound of broken cement and metal, stood still, then sprang down the other side. It was a man, tall and well built, in a worn and scuffed jumpsuit padded on the elbows and knees. He stopped at the bottom as sweat beaded and ran down his tormented and beaten face. Stern and alert, he pressed his body against a brick wall as a bright light scanned the rubble.
What do I do now?
He didn’t know the answer to that. He was tired and scared and it was hard to think. They had been after him for some time now and his luck was at its end, the stupid jerks probably knew it. What he wanted to do was just sit down on the dirty pavement and cry out his frustration and fear. But he couldn’t. His will to survive was strong and there was no time.
What do I do now?
He glanced to his right and he felt the hair on his back stand on end — fear shot through him and left him paralyzed. There were two of them, as if one wasn’t bad enough.
These were the evil killing machines…
Stuwart Redman closed the book and sighed. He had just bought the book two days ago but had read a page and a half before he became bored with it. He looked at the book for a moment, then threw it in a corner of his bedroom (where there were at least ten other unread books). What he needed was a beer; no, maybe a Coke; naw, a beer. He got up from his bed, tripped over some Lone Star Beer and Coke bottles that were scattered on his floor, and walked into the bathroom. Instinctively his hand reached for the sink where he kept a few extra beers, but found none.
Where’s me beer?
He turned around and opened the shower curtain and scanned the bathtub. This is where he kept his dirty clothes but it didn’t matter, he needed his beer. A waterfall of clothes fell behind him and landed haphazardly around the bathroom. He picked up the last garment of cothing and there it was, his beer. He grabbed it but it was empty. His stomach growled impatiently.
WHERE’S ME BEER!
Turning around once again, he decided to relieve himself. Hey, it is a normal thing to do in the morning. He lifted the toilet seat up and there was something in there — a baseball cap.
“Aww man, not my hat, not my favorite hat.”
With his index finger and thumb he pulled it out as if it were contaminated with radioactivity and looked at the soggy letters: New York Yankees. The words looked sluggish and dripped with water. He wondered if he should have gotten up this morning and probably would have gone back to bed if something hadn’t caught his eye. It was in the toilet. It was a beer cap. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. Yes, it was there and it was connected to a bottle, a BEER bottle. Now he rescued it from the water and read the label — L-O-N-E S-T-A-R B-E-E-R.
“IT’S ME BEER! Me beer, me beer, it’s me beer!”
He skipped out of the bathroom humming and looked on the end table near his bed for the can opener, but it wasn’t there. He had opened one with his teeth before and had gone to the dentist for it. He did not want to relieve that nightmare.
It must be in the kitchen.
Skipping into the kitchen, he said good morning to Jester, his cat, who was playing with something in the corner. He opened up the silverware drawer and searched for the opener but it had escaped him again. Stu, not being very mature or patient, started throwing silverware up in the air and it was landing in a shower behind him. Jester thought the sky was falling and ran with his toy into the closet in Stu’s room.
Stu began to suffer from Beer Deficiency Syndrome. If anyone had seen him now, they would think he was Bozo the Clown with about 8,000 volts jolting through his body. Then with a pang it hit him — JESTER! Jester had been playing with something when he came in the kitchen. That something was — THE CAN OPENER! Stu turned around and looked but found neither the cat nor the opener in the corner.
Suddenly the syndrome took over again and now Stu was making weird animal-like noises and shaking his head furiously. He sounded like a bullfrog with a bunch of hot dogs in his mouth.
“Jeeessster! Jeeessster! Comie outie nowie!”
He looked in the den, behind the television and the sofa, but no Jester. His eyes gleaming, he creeped into the bedroom…
Jester, hiding in the closet, was terrified. He had never seen anybody go so “ape-crazy” like that since Stu’s sister’s son lit his Uncle Tom’s tail on fire. Boy, he sure was freaking out. He could hear Stu’s voice calling out his name. Jester thought how much Stu’s voice sounded just like a bullfrog with a bunch of hot dogs in its mouth. Then Jester’s eyes got real big, Stu was coming into the bedroom.
Stu walked quietly into the bedroom. Although he was delirious from the syndrome that had taken control of his body, he still remembered the Jester would hide in the closet when he was in trouble.
“Jester, where are you? Jester, if you give me the can opener, I’ll be real happy!”
He tip-toed next to the closet, counted to three and slid back the door all the way.
He scared Jester so much, Jester had a little accident, well, a BIG accident on the floor. Then Jester went into a flying rage. It happened so quickly not even Jester knew what happened.
All Stu could see was a blur for a second, then he heard a “ping.” The “ping” had been Jester running into the metal frame that supported Stu’s bed. He had been moving so quickly, he had no time to maneuver out of the way. Jester was out cold. Stu turned around to see what the “ping” was when every stitch of clothing on Stu’s body fell off. Then scratch marks appeared, covering his body. This was followed by pain so terrible it made Stu pass out.
When Stu awakened, he was in the hospital. His body — a giant band-aid. They had wrapped him up nice and neatly. He looked around, found that he could move limitedly, and also found on a table next to him, a bottle of Lone Star Beer with a note under it. It read:
I’m sorry that we had a disagreement and I hope we can patch things up.
P.S. I hope you like your beer.
Stu started to cry, so he took a sip from his beer. Then he realized that he forgot to open it. He looked for the can opener on the table.
He couldn’t find one…